Valuable Antarctic plant specimens from as far south as 86 degrees are now housed in the new herbarium at the Australian Antarctic Division’s (AAD) Kingston headquarters.

Parliamentary Secretary for the Antarctic Dr Sharman Stone today commended the herbarium as among the best of its type in the world, containing around 25,000 specimens of mainly mosses, liverworts and lichens.

“This is the first purpose-built permanent home for these precious specimens that have been collected over the past 35 years from an area covering around half the Antarctic continent and sub-Antarctic Macquarie, Heard, Campbell, Auckland and the Kerguelen islands. There are also samples from many alpine and Arctic regions.

“This collection is the most extensive of plants from continental Antarctica housed together anywhere in the world.”

Dr Stone said that the taxonomic plant collection was a valuable record of life at the ecological extreme and the new herbarium demonstrated the Federal Government’s commitment to studying and protecting the Antarctic environment.

“A collection of this type requires special conditions in which to survive without damage,” Dr Stone said.

“The herbarium contains a specially-designed vault to protect specimens from fire and water damage and to reduce the incidence of insect attack, all of which could easily destroy the collection.

“Regular pest control measures are in place to protect it from unwanted pests such as silver fish, beetles, weevils and other small insects.

“These measures, coupled with stringent quarantine rules regarding new material, will ensure that the collection remains pest free,” said Dr Stone.

Dr Stone has also commended herbarium curator Professor Rod Seppelt.

“Professor Seppelt’s unstinting dedication to this project over many years deserves special recognition. He has almost single-handedly collected more than 95 percent of these precious specimens during 36 trips to Antarctica and several sojourns to the Arctic,” Dr Stone said.

Professor Seppelt is also a renowned botanical artist whose work will be featured in the sesquicentenary of the Melbourne Herbarium Botanical Art Exhibition in September.

“Study of the plant species in our collection is fundamental to our understanding of biodiversity and conservation in Antarctica and to develop informed management and protection policies,” said Prof. Seppelt.

To complement the herbarium there is a new laboratory for taxonomic research where specimens are linked to a state-of-the-art Antarctic biodiversity database. So far, data from 10,205 plant specimens have been entered, with specimen details from the entire collection to be available online in due course.

Dr Stone said that a further 5000 specimens from Heard Island were yet to be curated bringing the total number of collections in the AAD’s herbarium to more than 30,000.